A Question of Foreign Markings

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This article attempts to track the origins and detail of one of the most unusual markings to be seen on a Spitfire in the ...

This article attempts to track the origins and detail of one of the most unusual markings to be seen on a Spitfire in the European theatre during the closing months of World War II –  Spitfire LF Mk. IXE, serial no. PV181 of the Norwegian ace W/Cdr Rolf Arne Berg.

Rolf Arne Berg’s career was closely tied with No. 331 (Norwegian) Squadron, with which he served from July 1941. His personal tally counted 6 (according to some sources 5.5) enemy aircraft destroyed. In the period preceding the invasion of Europe, Berg took the leadership of No. 132 Norwegian wing.

As part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, the No. 132 Norwegian wing participated in the Normandy Landings and moved to Caen, France in August 1944. From September onwards, the Norwegian squadrons participated in the liberation of Holland and took part in the crossing of the Rhine. During the entire period, beside his commanding duties Berg flew continuously on operations. Indeed, rumours said that he had flown more sorties than anyone else in the entire 2nd TAF!

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk. IXE, PV181
Personal aircraft of W/Cdr Rolf Arne Berg
No. 132 (Norwegian) Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force
Fall 1944
Click to enlarge images

Berg’s personal aircraft was PV181, a Spitfire LF Mk. IXE with broad-chord rudder. Built at Castle Bromwich, it was delivered to No. 33 Maintenance Unit on 5 September 1944. Officially taken on strength by No. 66 Squadron on 5 October 1944, it was selected as Berg’s personal aircraft immediately after delivery and so was never used operationally by that unit.

As Wing Commander, Berg was entitled to carry personal markings on his aircraft. Indeed, his own initials were used instead of the regular squadron codes as per ordinary RAF practice. However, Berg wanted something more and thus went beyond the regulations. The Norwegian units’ morale and desire to fly again under the Norwegian colours must have played the part in his decision to have the RNoAF national markings applied to the wings and rudder of his Spitfire.

It is not entirely clear when the change was made. Probably from Autumn 1944 when D-Day stripes were to be removed on wings. The pre-war Norwegian Air Force markings consisted of flag coloured stripes on wings and rudder. These were applied to PV181, and the corresponding RAF roundels and fin flashes were removed.

Carried previously on his Spitfire, and following the No. 331 Squadron’s practice of the time was the spinner band in the same Norwegian colours.

RAB PV181 in all its glory. The place is probably Grimbergen, Autumn 1944.
[Nils Mathisrud coll.]

The fate of Berg’s initiative

Documentary evidence found in the National Archives shows that Berg’s initiative was, or became part of a larger plan on part of the Norwegian squadrons in the RAF. On 24 November 24 an official letter was directed to the Air Staff, Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force requesting the permission for these squadrons to apply Norwegian national markings on all their aircraft operating within the 2nd TAF. It was hoped that, with the end of hostilities and the liberation of their country in sight, the Norwegians could end the war and fly home under their own colours. It was pointed out that the French units with the RAF had already been allowed to carry their national roundels.

The response from the SHAEF was prompt and to the point. Not mentioning the case of the French units, SHAEF expressed regret but disapproved. The Air Staff argued that the introduction of yet another marking which differed considerably from the RAF roundel could become a cause for increased friendly-fire incidents. As it was, there were already sufficient difficulties in recognition of aircraft among the Allied forces.

Furthermore, they openly expressed concern that approving the Norwegian request would create an awkward precedent and cause similar claims from other foreign nations in the RAF. The Poles in particular, with their many squadrons in RAF service, had been expressing desire to use full-size Polish Air Force checkerboards on their aircraft since the beginning of their service with the RAF back in 1940.

Facsimile of SHAEF’s response regarding Norwegian national markings dated 30 November 1944.
[via Nils Mathisrud]

The letter put an end to Berg’s initiative. The orders were now clear to remove his “personal” national markings and his aircraft was repainted again, probably in early January 1945. The occasion might have coincided with changes to the markings for 2nd TAF introduced on 3 January, 1945. New to the scheme was the black spinner and that the 56″ B-roundel on upper wing and the underwing 32″ C1-roundel were to be changed to 36″ C1-roundels.

Thus the markings of PV181, meant to constitute an example to be followed, remained a sole precedent in the wartime RAF.

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk. IXE, PV181
Personal aircraft of W/Cdr Rolf Arne Berg
No. 132 (Norwegian) Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force
January 1945
Click to enlarge images

Sadly, W/Cdr Rolf Arne Berg was shot down and killed flying his aircraft on 3 February, 1945. On that fatal day, his operational tour was completed and he was about to leave the unit, his briefcases packed. He decided to fly one more mission, which turned out to be his last. Hit by Flak while attacking a Luftwaffe airfield at Eelde, Berg’s Spitfire was reported to have lost a wing and then went down, out of control. The pilot was killed instantly as the aircraft hit a farmhouse.

Photos of PV181

Another photo of PV181 at B.60 Grimbergen
[Nils Mathisrud coll.]

Close-up view of the rudder of PV181 in Norwegian bands.
[Nils Mathisrud coll.]

January 1945 and RAB reverted to standard 2nd TAF markings. Note the 30-gal slipper tank under the fuselage.
[Nils Mathisrud coll.]

Remains of PV181 after the crash
[Nils Mathisrud coll.]

2 Comments

By Mitchell  |  2010-08-02 at 05:03  |  permalink

I say, thank you for the valuable information on SpitFire markings and diagrams which I need to know more about it for my painting. Great site and wonderful stuffs.

Cheers;
Mitchell

By Bill Andersen  |  2016-04-15 at 23:28  |  permalink

My next RC build will be the legendary Spitfire Mk. IX. Being of Norwegian descent I will paint it with W/CD-R. Berg’s all-too temporary markings honoring his Norwegian ancestry.

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